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On Chess: 2017 Grand Chess Tour begins next week with larger prize fund and the world’s top players

The action at the Grand Chess Tour in Paris in 2016
Chess Club and Spectrum Studios
The action at the Grand Chess Tour in Paris in 2016

The third annual Grand Chess Tour, arguably the top chess tour in the world, is right around the corner with none other than Magnus Carlsen headlining the event. Another treat for both the players and chess fans is the addition of the Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz tournament following the Sinquefield Cup. With quicker time control events and inclusion of more players, the 2017 tour promises to be unforgettable.

The first leg of the event will be the Paris Grand Chess Tour from June 21-25. The second will be in Brussels-Leuven,  June 28-July 2, with Your Next Move. The third stop on the tour is the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis August 2-12. That is followed by the newest event, the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz August 13-19. The tour will once again end with the London Chess Classic, from November 30-December 11.

The three blitz and rapid events (Paris, Leuven and St. Louis) will each have a $150,000 prize fund, whereas the classical events (Sinquefield Cup and London Classic), will offer $300,000 each. Once again, the winner of the tour will be awarded with a $100,000 bonus and the second place finisher will receive a $50,000 bonus. The total prize fund is $1,200,000, a $150,000 increase from 2016.

The 2017 tour will consist of nine players, who will compete in both classical and two rapid and blitz events of their choice. Unlike last year, however, the lowest score will not be dropped and all the scores will count towards the overall Grand Chess Tour standings. Each classical event will have one wild card, while the rapid and blitz events will have four wild cards. However, only the nine players who will compete in four events can fight for the title of the overall tour winner.

The tour has also altered its invitational guidelines as follows: three top finishers of the Grand Chess Tour 2016, top three players by average 2016 rating and three tour wild cards as determined by the Grand Chess Tour advisory board. Tour wild cards are different from event wild cards and will compete in four events.

The top three finishers in 2016 were:

  • Wesley So (U.S.A.) – No. 2 in the world, winner of Grand Chess Tour 2016 and the 2017 U.S. Champion
  • Fabiano Caruana (U.S.A.) – No. 4 in the world, 2016 U.S. Champion
  • Hikaru Nakamura (U.S.A.) – No. 9 in the world, 4 time U.S. Champion

The top three qualifiers by rating are:

  • Magnus Carlsen (Norway) – No.1 in the world and current World Champion
  • Sergey Karjakin (Russia) – No. 11 in the world, 2016 World Champion Challenger
  • Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France) – No. 6 in the world

The tour wild cards are:

  • Viswanathan Anand (India) – No. 8 in the world and 5-time World Champion
  • Levon Aronian (Armenia) – No. 7 in the world, former Olympiad gold medalist
  • Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia) – No. 23 in the world, bronze and silver Olympiad medalist

The wild cards for Paris are Grandmasters Alexander Grischuk (Russia), Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria) and Etienne Bacrot (France). The wildc ards for Leuven are Grand Masters Vladimir Kramnik (Russia) Anish Giri (Netherlands), Vassily Ivanchuk (Ukraine) and Baadur Jobava (Georgia). Many of these players are big fan favorites due to their fierce playing style. Their appearance will only make the event even more exciting.

Of course, the biggest news is the return of Magnus Carlsen to the tour. The World Champion was only able to compete in two events in 2016 as a wild card due to a busy schedule but, undoubtedly, he is looking to take the title back.

Grandmasters Wesley So and Fabiano Caruano in a match at the Grand Chess Tour in Paris, 2016
Credit Chess Club and Spectrum Studios
Grandmasters Wesley So and Fabiano Caruano in a match at the Grand Chess Tour in Paris, 2016

When thinking back to the Grand Chess Tour 2016, one name in particular comes to mind. That name, which chess fans know fondly, is Wesley So. The American won the tour convincingly while his peers and the chess world sang his praises, with former World Champion Garry Kasparov naming him as a future challenger to Carlsen’s throne. Since then, So has won the Tata Steel and the 2017 U.S. Championship and has climbed to the second spot in the world, only 20 rating points behind Carlsen.

Magnus Carlsen rejoining the fray, promises to shake up the event and challenge So's reign. Not too long ago, Carlsen was considered untouchable, inching closer to the 2900 mark. Now, he is only a few bad events away from losing his No. 1 spot. Even so, he is universally considered the strongest player and remains a favorite to win. After a terrible year, fan favorite Levon Aronian seems to have finally found his form and is set to cross 2800 again. Both Caruana and Nakamura are also surely looking to surpass So in the race to become the highest rated player in the US. The veteran of the tour, Vishy Anand, has proven time after time that despite his age he is still a force to reckon with and has kept audiences in awe with his remarkable calculation skills in faster time controls. The event wild cards, particularly Jobava, Mamedyarov and Ivachuk, are capable of beating just about anyone and delivering surprise performances. 

The action begins June 21 at 2 p.m. (7 a.m. CT) at the Canal Factory in Paris.  Once again, the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis will provide commentary with Yasser Seirawan, Cristian Chirila and Jovanka Houska.  Maurice Ashley will be reporting from location and will be joined by Eduard Romain in Paris and Nigel Short in Leuven. Alejandro Ramirez and Ivette Garcia will be providing commentary in Spanish. Watch it all live on www.grandchesstour.org and interact on social media www.twitter.com/grandchesstour

Tatev Abrahamyan started playing chess at 8 after her father took her to the 1996 Chess Olympiad in Yerevan, Armenia. There she met Grandmaster Judit Polgar, arguably the greatest female player of all time and the only woman in the tournament. Currently the third highest rated female in the U.S., she has represented the United States in four Olympiads and two World Team Championships since 2008.